Manga Monday #7: Tokyo Mew Mew by Mia Ikumi and Reiko Yoshida (vol. 4-7)

*Warning! This post will contain spoilers!*

Looking at the covers of the latter volumes triggered some memories for me, from back when this series was first released in English. Since Tokyo Mew Mew was the first manga I collected to completion and I started my collection as the series was being released, I would eagerly scan the manga shelves of my local Borders (good ol’ Borders! I MISS IT SO!) every few weeks, waiting for the new volume to come out. That’s definitely one of my first and fondest memories from my weeaboo years!

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Following the set-up of volumes 1-3, volumes 4-7 wrap up our story with more much more action, drama, romance, some cake and pastries, and a refreshing dose of comedy that almost vanishes completely in favor of a more serious tone for the last 2 volumes as the plot reaches the climax. All in all, there are many twists and turns as this story draws to a close – secret identities are revealed, double secret identities are revealed, romances are secured, mew aquas are found, and jokes are made, often at Ichigo’s expense.

I do feel that the story needed a bit more time to breathe as it barreled toward a conclusion. The big Masaya/”Deep Blue” reveal takes place within the span of a single volume, so it feels a bit rushed, as it gets resolved in short order and the final fight – while the art is fantastic and the battle is well-depicted – feels short. I actually think this series could have benefited from a couple more volumes, which is not a sentiment I feel very often, especially with shojo manga. There’s not even that much filler in Tokyo Mew Mew, which is nice… just about every chapter has a purpose that is tied into the overall narrative and the major arcs of the characters/story, it still feels as though the resolution comes a little too quick. But ultimately, the conclusion is satisfying and just about all of the loose ends get wrapped up in a way that should please most readers.

Also, my hatred of Kish continues (and builds!) in the latter volumes, but I’ll chalk it up to underwhelming character development. He switches sides and suddenly becomes a “good guy” because he “loves” Ichigo, but it’s tough for me to take his motivations at face value because he barely knows her, the only times he ever interacted with her he was attacking her and her friends, and he is just so whiny I wanted to punt him across numerous panels and off the page. Also Tart is OBNOXIOUS. Pie was the only villain that I could stand, only because he has very limited panel time. However, our friendly heroines are all pleasant to follow, and though Ichigo makes some boneheaded decisions sometimes (she’s twelve, she gets some slack) it’s easy to root for the Mew Mews as they fight to protect and preserve the world. Keiichiro is an understated hero, and Ryou is not my fave, but getting a peek into his tragic backstory makes him easier to understand and empathize with. Could have done without the Alto bit, though. And Masaya’s arc was intriguing, though a deeper glimpse into his history might have been beneficial, considering he’s been the ultimate villain all along.

However, any manga that ends with a mock wedding between two 12-year-olds is a bit much for me on the saccharine-scale. It makes me feel like a huge killjoy to say it, but, while I find the Ichigo/Masaya romance cute and all, it’s sooooooo dramatic and there are so many love declarations and angsting that it starts to feel forced and disingenuous. Plus, they are children. I get that it’s manga and isn’t to be taken so seriously, I just have a tough time taking it seriously. Then again, I’ve aged out of the target demo for this series, and I’m sure I thought differently when I was younger. I will admit, though, that Masaya has the patience of a SAINT. Someday, I hope I can land a man who is totally fine with consistent lateness and flakiness and me randomly disappearing while out on dates.

If you’re looking for a cute magical-girl series that is significantly shorter than Sailor Moon or Fushigi Yugi, then Tokyo Mew Mew is a great outlet to satisfy your need for cute mottos, cute motifs, and cute characters… did I mention it’s cute? Overall, there’s enough sugar in this series to please even the fiercest sweet-tooths.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Writing Rewind #12: Wings of Fate Chapter 8 Part 1

I’ll straight up admit that I’ve been putting this next installment off on purpose, because it includes the storyline I’ve been dreading. The romance subplot. My reasons for hating it will become more prevalent next time, but this is the set up to it…

Now that I’m older, I’ve actually done a total 180 on my stance regarding the main “romance” of this story, so revisiting will be difficult because I basically want to erase the entire thing and pretend it never happened. But I’m going to do my best to dissect all the issues without imploding from the massive cringe-fest that is about to unfold.

Last time on Writing Rewind, we found out what the mysterious mission is all about! It involves a floating land in the sky that was definitely not influenced by Castle in the Sky from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, no way no how. What adventures are in store for us this time as we vault into Wings of Fate Chapter 8: The Hated Day?

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Oh boy. It’s a Matthias-centric chapter. Brace yourselves for the avalanche of “cold” and “icy” character descriptions!

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That entire first paragraph is an abomination and deserves to DIE. I cannot fathom why I felt I needed to describe Matthias in vivid detail EVERY SINGLE TIME HE’S MENTIONED. He’s basically the Tin Man meets Mr. Freeze meets Frosty the Snowman, WE GET IT, GOOD GOD.

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There. Short, sweet, mostly to the point. And not a “cold” descriptor to be seen…

Next, after Robin spills the beans about the mission and gets Heiwa and Daisuke in trouble with their commanding officers, they are out on the deck with Shirotaka when a little accident happens, and our favorite mute magical girl falls overboard…

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She can fly, she can fly, she can flyyyyyyy!!!!!! And this portion’s not too bad, but it’s got too much fluff.

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I’ve noticed that Past Allie certainly leans toward repetition, or saying things in a roundabout way that could be explained in a much shorter fashion. I’m verbose, basically. And it ain’t cute. And I think it is definitely the worst it’s been in this chapter.

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Wow, look at that! The same revelation with much fewer words! It flows a lot better this way, without all the excess.

Next, Heiwa takes Shirotaka up to Dr. Black to tell him about her ability…

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Why, oh why, does Dr. Black feel the need to pontificate so often? Might as well stamp “I’M A SECRET VILLAIN!” on his forehead.

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I think Dr. Black needs to keep it subtle. Not be so… forthcoming. Like, Heiwa asked one question and he goes off on a rant, and it’s not necessary at all. Also, I think he’d be more upset by the lack of positive reception to the mission reveal than he lets on in this version, so him keeping his response short will work better. Gotta keep some element of suspense.

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There we go! Look how much better it is when all the babbling is chopped out!

Next, Matthias’s frigid ways continue…

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Uh, oh! Something’s up with Mattie! What could it be?

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The set up of Matthias’s hissy-fit and Tango’s musing can definitely be handled in a more… fluid way. Keep the mystery without beating the reader over the head with it. Matthias’s behavior is weird, but it can be shown and not told.

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Much better! Enough to show that Mattie is behaving like an asshat and Tango is perplexed by it without being too wordy. The theme of the week seems to be trimming the fluff, and I gotta say, seeing all the superfluous bits getting shaved away is making my hatred of this plot-line wane, just a bit.

After Matthias blows up in spectacularly unprofessional fashion at Pilot, the commanding officers begin to speculate about his pissy mood…

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So, Tango knows – or thinks she knows – why Mattie is behaving like this. That can be said in far fewer words, and the remaining words can be shuffled around and tweaked to make the passage flow better.

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Clearly, the romance being set up is between Tango and Matthias, so this portion is meant to set up the fact that Tango knows him better than the others and views him in a more positive light. And by cutting some parts out and reworking some others, that message will come across a bit clearer.

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Okay, so this part of Chapter 8 wasn’t quite as bad as I expected, but next time, the real cringe sets in. Will we find out why Matthias is acting like such a jerk to everyone? Will Tango be able to improve his mood, or will her intervention make things worse? Stay tuned, for the exploration of the most regrettable romantic subplot of my early writing career!

For some less regrettable writing, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

Manga Monday #5: Absolute Boyfriend (vol. 4-6)

*Warning! This post will contain MAJOR spoilers!*

Last week, I re-examined volumes 1-3 of Yuu Watase’s shojo manga Absolute Boyfriend, and this week, I’ll be tackling the end, volumes 4-6!

I went into the tail end of this series expecting to be blown away, and in all honesty, I wasn’t – I kept both feet planted firmly on the ground. But a few key points still stuck out, and I still find this series just as charming and funny on the second go-round as I did on the first. I do, however, now realize why a part of me prefers the Jdrama to the manga, when the opposite is usually true.

20171001_2145091421252900.jpgFirst of all, I am immensely glad that the series retains the humor factor the entire way through. The little bits of comedy, especially regarding Gaku and his “job,” and Night’s tendency to nearly expose his secret to others, make for a nice break from the more dramatic portions of the story, especially as the main narrative barrels toward the end and the emotional scenes become a priority. The art remains fantastic as well; totally pleasing to the eye and continually engrossing.

Of all 6 volumes, I think volume 4 is the weakest. First of all, I TOTALLY FORGOT about the “Mini-Night” story-line. While some meaningful revelations and interactions occur during that particular plot, it still feels like “filler.” Even the side-plot that occurs concerning Miyabe, one of Riiko’s friends, during this time didn’t strike me as vital to the plot. I understand the genre of this manga and what the standards are for this type of story, but I think the latter half of the plot seems to fall victim to the preoccupation with the love triangle, and it’s more of a detriment than a strength. It’s present in the first half of the series, but as the story builds and the love-triangle plot starts to take center stage, it began to bug me. And, as I said in the last post, I am all for a good love kerfuffle, but this one started to grate on my nerves. I mean, at least Riiko straight up admits she doesn’t know who she “really loves,” since she has feelings for both, but the pettiness between Night and Soshi and Riiko’s constant, “I don’t know” mentality gets a little stale after a while.

The pacing suffers a bit in the latter volumes; certain parts, like the finale, feel rushed, while others seem aimless. I didn’t realize volume 6 takes up only half the tankobon, and the other half is two little one-shot stories totally unrelated to Absolute Boyfriend. BUT, they are both pretty cute, and well worth a read!

My biggest beef on this read-through is Soshi’s character. I hated the way Soshi behaved when he found out about Night’s “figure” status, as he amped up the jealous/forceful factor to about a 9 on the “he needs to calm the eff down” scale. It’s understandable for him to be frustrated, of course – the girl he loves is torn between him and a man who is not technically “real,” and if that were me, I’d feel like a grade-A loser – and his reaction is… less than pleasant, to the point where it does teeter a bit over the “too intense” line. And while Riiko can be a bit of a waffle sometimes, and wishy-washy like a lot of heroines tend to be, I think Soshi genuinely needed to chill. He does, eventually – but my opinion on his character really soured in the latter half of this series. Especially when he kisses Riiko while she’s sleeping. Not cute, Soshi. Not. Cute. And the “YOU DON’T DESERVE HER… no wait, I don’t deserve her… BUT YOU DON’T DESERVE HER EITHER” got old real quick.

Though I’m older now, and some of the events and decisions made in this manga no longer resonate with me or stand out as something I can relate to, I do still massively appreciate the way this manga ends. Even when I was a teenager, I didn’t expect Riiko/Night to be endgame. It was just not realistic, and I applaud the mangaka for not taking some absurd, Pinocchio-esque “I’m a real boy!” twist to make it so that Night will be able to remain in Riiko’s life permanently, without consequence. And I will admit, I got a little choked up when Night’s body fails and Riiko desperately tries to wake him, only to realize that he’s gone forever. I remember openly sobbing over it when I read it the first time, so I’m not surprised it still yanked at the ol’ heartstrings. Boy, that pummeled me right in the feels, even so many years later. Their relationship was never going to last, but that doesn’t make the ending any less significant, and by the end, I felt as though I had witnessed real growth in Riiko (and, to some extent, Soshi ) thanks in large part to her relationship with Night, and her experiences with him seemed to make her a better person overall. It’s a bittersweet ending that is handled exceptionally well, which seems difficult to pull off for a series of this nature.

All in all, Absolute Boyfriend doesn’t hold quite the same allure for me as it did when I was a teen, but it still contains messages and stories that are relevant today and it is an entertaining read all the way through, despite some parts that gnawed at my nerves. Through a tedious love triangle and a bit of inconsequential “filler,” Absolute Boyfriend still nails the comedy and packs an emotional wallop where it really matters.

Next Monday, we’ll tackle either Tokyo Mew Mew by Reiko Yoshida and Mia Ikumi, or Tsubasa: Those With Wings by Natsuki Takaya. Until then!

What Could Have Been

As I’ve mentioned before, my debut novel I’m With You underwent many changes from inception to publication. The original story I envisioned was vastly different from the final version, and, just for funsies, I thought I’d list some of the things that “could have been” had I kept on along the initial route…

Minor spoilers ahead! You have been warned!

1.) Ciarán did not exist.
Ramus was originally intended to be the narrator, but his role was also different than his final incarnation (see below). I added Ciarán because I wanted to show the main characters through the eyes of a different party, and did not want Ramus’s perspective to paint the narrative. I thought the themes and the lessons would be better portrayed through the eyes and in the voice of a teenager, especially since I was aiming for a YA audience, so Ciarán was created to fill that role. And I’m glad it was his voice that told the story.

2.) Ramus (and Valkyrie) were hit-men.
The original plan had Ramus and Valkyrie serving as hit-men from the same nefarious organization. Ramus is hired to eliminate Remiel by her paranoid grandfather, but Ramus ultimately turns against his employers and decides to save Rem instead, and he recruits Valkyrie to help him get her to safety with some family members across the country. So, there are some similarities, but I nixed the hit-man idea when some other plot elements were changed and new characters were introduced. Also, there would have been a lot more violence and fighting. The Ramus/Valkyrie relationship was mostly the same, however, though instead of being established before their introduction, it would have been over the course of the narrative.

3.) I’m With You was intended to be a trilogy.
Back when I had very lofty ambitions for the layout of the story, I figured it would take about three books to tell the whole tale. However, there were several different sub-plots going on that were eventually discarded. Valkyrie was going to become a “villain” of sorts, and there was an arc that would feature a “world war” type of event… but in the end, it was way too convoluted and confusing and I couldn’t quite scrape up enough plausible detail to weave all the events I wanted together into a cohesive tale. The main story was supposed to be “get Remiel to safety” and as I kept adding more and more, it strayed further and further from the point. After I sliced down the scope of my ideas and shuffled the remaining elements together, I was left with enough content to fit within the pages of a single book. And I’m super glad that it ended up as one novel instead of 3.

4.) Kaz and Kia were originally twins…
…and both were villains. Kia was originally envisioned as an acrobat in a circus, and Kaz, her brother, was still a fire-juggler. They were to be villains in the second main arc of the story, enlisted by the second main antagonist. That is why their names and origins are similar; both got an age-change in the final version, as Kaz is 30 and Kia is 25ish.

5.) Dahlia was the main villain.
She was also known by the moniker “The Boss,” as she ran the organization that the hit-man versions of Ramus and Valkyrie were involved in. Markone also did not exist in the original plan. Dahlia and Valkyrie also would have ended up having a child, though they weren’t in a “relationship” – Valkyrie was more or less forced into a liaison with her. Long story. Obviously, that changed quite a lot.

6.) Most character descriptions were changed.
Camilla originally had black hair and brown eyes, but ended up blonde and blue-eyed. Valkyrie had two-toned hair; brown and red, but he ended up with auburn. Kaz was bald, I believe, and Dahlia was a little older and had red hair. I think the only characters who kept the same exact appearance/physical description were Remiel and Ramus, though Remiel was younger in previous plans.

7.) Mitzi was a minor character.
The original “party” for the story was Ramus, Remiel, Valkyrie, and Camilla – as previously mentioned, Ciarán didn’t exist, Kaz was a villain, and Mitzi was a minor supporting character in what I envisioned to be the second book of the trilogy. She had a very similar temperament, but was employed by a government organization and would end up working against her employer to help the main crew. When the plot shifted around, I decided to include her in the main party because her personality added a bit more balance to the rest of the characters.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Manga Monday #3: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 4-7)

WARNING! This post will contain SPOILERS!

The previous post, which discusses volumes 1-3, can be found here!

Now, after starting the series several years ago and failing to finish it, I have finally read all of Full Moon o Sagashite!

It’s a unique feeling to read a manga like this now, in my twenties, as opposed to in my teens. My mentality on certain matters has changed a lot over the last few years, so while I’m sure 15-year-old Allie would be squealing with joy over how adorable this manga is, 25-year-old Allie is less enthusiastic. However, I will say that the manga comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion without any glaring loose ends, which is a major plus.

While I’m glad the story picked up a lot of traction as opposed to the early volumes, I did find some of the story-lines rushed during the latter portion of this series. I personally felt that Takuto’s emerging love for Mitsuki went from “I might have feelings for this girl” to “I AM DEEPLY, PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH HER” in an extremely short amount of time, and Takuto became pretty one-dimensional afterward, except for a moment where he asserted his partnership with Meroko in the final volume. I realize that this is a recurring theme in many shojo manga, but in case of Full Moon, I did find it to be a detriment. Takuto also gets a little forceful with Mitsuki at times, which I did not like. The inclusion of Hikari as a wrench in Mitsuki and Takuto’s blooming relationship also struck an off-note with me, as she felt more like a device than a full-fledged character, especially since that thread of the story was brief.

I mentioned in my last post that I disliked how young Mitsuki was while grappling with such intense emotions, but I do think that improved in volumes 4-7, as the reasoning behind her feelings gets explored more thoroughly. She knew that Eichi was dead, but was unwilling to let go of him, and that stirs up a mess of confusing emotions once Takuto throws himself into the ring and expresses his love for her. Mitsuki’s reluctance to move on felt very real, and like a very plausible reaction for a girl her age to have when experiencing such complex emotions, especially considering the other problems she’s dealing with, such as running away from home, handling her Fullmoon alter ego, etc. Over volumes 4-7, Mitsuki really grew on me; she retains her sugar-sweet personality throughout the series, but she also shows her vulnerabilities and a much more viable anger than she expresses early on. And watching her learn and adapt to difficult emotions, and puzzle out her warring feelings for Takuto and persistent dedication to Eichi, made her a much more likable and relatable heroine.

Also in a complete reversal from last time, I enjoyed Meroko’s story-line a lot more than I did during volumes 1-3. Finally getting the backstory as to why she acts the way she does and why she struggles so much with her insecurities and feelings of  “love” provided a greater insight into her character, and I loved the interaction she had with Fuzuki. As her motivations became clear, her character grew much more likable, and I appreciated the insight into Izumi’s former life as well. Izumi starts off as a “darker” character than Meroko and Takuto, so that peek into his past and his relationship with his mother created a more sympathetic view of his character, especially when he shows vulnerability to Mitsuki. The shinigami are so cute with their outfits and animal alter-egos, it’s easy to forget how they got to that point – they are only shinigami because they committed suicide. So seeing their tragic backstories unfold and having them work together to convince Mitsuki to choose life gains a much more powerful meaning, considering they know better than anyone what it means not to have one.

Also, side-note, not a fan of the Madoka/Nachi plot in general. FIRST OF ALL, where did Nachi come from? Did I miss his introduction somehow? He like, appeared in volume 4 but I had no memory of him prior to that, though that might be an error on my end. But just the idea that plastic surgery is what brought them together really rubs me the wrong way. It’s like “look at me, I changed my face to be good enough for you!” I really disliked the delivery of that message, and felt the plot-line could have been tweaked a bit so it wouldn’t come across as so shallow. I also thought the romance between Ms. Oshige and Dr. Wakaoji started off at a nice pace, then sprinted to a resolution; it more or less jumped from getting together to getting super serious in a pretty short amount of time. I would have liked to see more exploration into their developing feelings for one another, rather than surface-level observations.

Plot-wise, Iloved the Jonathan twist, as I did NOT see it coming. Also, I thought the introduction of Sheldan (the shinigami’s boss) was handled pretty smoothly, as he remained fairly mysterious throughout, but Mystere was kind of forgettable. They didn’t get much page-time, but their character designs were excellent.

And, just a suggestion… if you’re someone who skips the little mini-comics at the end of most volumes, I recommend reading the ones in this series. They are hilarious.

The ending is predictable, but it’s still nice to see all of the character development and the various stories get tied up in a nice, neat bow at the close of volume 7. there’s something oddly refreshing about a happy, if a little bittersweet, ending, and seeing the characters you’ve grown to love come to a solid resolution by the final pages.

Despite my gripes, Full Moon o Sagashite provides a compelling balance of romance, drama, comedy, and a sprinkle of magical girl tropes that may continue to draw new readers, even though the initial run of the series ended long ago. Despite some leaps in logic and a few cliche bits of narrative, and a few portions of the story that struggle to hit the high notes, this charming series is a must read for shojo manga fans, if only just to appreciate Tanemura’s great artwork. Though I’ve become a cynic in my old age, I imagine teenage manga fans might find themselves more engrossed and drawn into the story than I was.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Manga Monday #2: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 1-3)

While scanning my shelves for the next series to revisit, I tried to remember the first time I read Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura, but drew a total blank. After some more thought, I realized that, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least the first couple of volumes, I never finished it. And I’ve never seen the anime. So, although I have a vague idea of what the premise is (I know singing and shinigami are involved)… I have no idea how it ends. So let’s fix that, starting with volumes 1-3!

~Reading Break~

20170909_103548Full Moon o Sagashite follows Mitsuki, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a fatal sarcoma in her throat, but her dreams of a singing career and reuniting with her lost love Eichi prevent her from undergoing the operation that will save her life. When two shinigami appear to intercept her fate, Mitsuki is granted the ability to transform into a healthy, 16-year-old version of herself so she can spend the last year of her life accomplishing her goals. The manga ran from 2002 – 2004 and was completed at 7 volumes.

Now, I’m pretty sure, when I read this several years ago, I only got through volumes 1-3. I bought the first 3 volumes back when Borders was still around (they closed in 2011) and collected the rest from online retailers over the years, but never finished the series. But I do remember really loving the premise and the story, so although I’m not sure why I never finished it, I’m determined to amend that!

After volume one, I wasn’t too invested in the characters or the narrative. Mitsuki is a really, really sweet protagonist; but almost unrealistically so. Maybe I’m just jaded (very likely) but she’s so nice and selfless it comes across as almost… grating. Even her rare moments of anger are tied to how kind and caring she is, as she’s usually angry on someone else’s behalf. She reminds me a bit of a sugar-coated version of Tohru from Fruits Basket (which I will be rereading for this series) but her endless cheer and optimism makes it difficult to connect with her, though she did grow on me a little during the next two volumes as her vulnerabilities (besides her illness) are made clear.

One half of the shinigami team, the bunny-eared Meroko, also irritated me quite a lot, though the small peek into her history during a side story in volume 3 was a nice glimpse into why she acts the way she does, and makes me curious about her past life. However, the other half, Takuto, intrigued me from the start. As his story unfolds, showing how close he was to Mitsuki’s life when he was alive, his history with singing, and the circumstances of his death, I found myself more drawn into his story than anyone else’s. But Izumi, another shinigami with a somewhat darker personality and outlook, is my favorite, so that probably explains the sort of character personalities I’m drawn to in stories like this. The shinigami are responsible for most of the humor (one panel with Jonathan, Izumi’s partner, had me actually laughing out loud) but also provide a unique commentary on life/death and repercussions of drastic decisions, which I look forward to seeing more of in later volumes.

Although the plot has a bit of a stuttering start (lots of shinigami rules and intricate plot details get thrown around during the set-up phase, plus a lot of saccharine fluff from Mitsuki) the plot really starts to pick up in volumes 2 and 3, as the complexities of the shinigami roles and the truth behind Mitsuki’s past unravel. The plot starts off fairly light-hearted as Mitsuki embarks on her signing career as “Fullmoon” with help and hilarious commentary from Meroko and Takuto, but it does get pretty deep starting in the second volume, providing an engaging balance between comedy and drama. A couple of plot twists seem a little forced and out-of-nowhere (Dr. Wakaoji’s identity, for instance) but other revelations (Oshige and her boss, Takuto’s past, and the big reveal at the end of volume 3) unfold in a more organic, natural fashion, which makes me eager to read volume 4 and see what happens next. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, and now, 3 volumes in, I both dread and eagerly anticipate how certain info-bombs will impact the story going forward.

I will say that Mitsuki being twelve does bother me a lot more now that I’m older. Even though she can transform into a 16-year-old when she’s her alter ego, “Fullmoon,” she’s still like… a literal child. So some plot points and interactions with characters comes across as creepy to me, instead of sweet. For instance, when Eichi told her he loved her, he was 14 and she was 10. Why is a 14-year-old boy confessing love to a ten year old? I do not find that cute, sorry. I get that the circumstances are different (they grew up together in an orphanage, she helped him through personal struggles and vice versa, they supported one another when they had no one else) but the gap just makes me find Mitsuki more naive than anything else. But, like I said before, maybe I’ve just grown jaded in my old age.

The art is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of intricate, ultra-cute-style character designs. Mizuki is a memorable character, and her hairstyles are exceptional. The costumes for the shinigami are adorable, but also make them stand out and implies hints into their personalities – Takuto is really finicky and hot-and-cold, like a cat, for example. It’s an art style that might not appeal to everyone, since it lends itself more to the cute/big-eye trend, but it’s pretty standard for a magical-girl series and I found it very appealing, since it’s easy to differentiate between the characters due to how distinct they are.

All in all, Full Moon o Sagashite provides an interesting blend of humor, romance, and compelling questions about death, life, and second chances. Even if it’s difficult to connect with the too-sweet heroine, the mysteries of the side characters make me want to keep reading, and the plot really starts to gain traction as the drama and emotional points overtake the comedy and fluff aspects. Next Monday, we’ll finish off this series with volumes 4-7! Stay tuned!

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Manga Mondays #1: Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai

Back in my teenage years, I was a big-time manga collector, and now, in my twenties, I still have shelves full of different volumes and series. While my anime preferences trend more toward the action-based/sci-fi/fantasy/mecha titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Last Exile, and Cowboy Bebop, my manga tastes stray more toward the “girly” fare. And one such series is Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai, which ran from 2003-2008 and was completed at 10 volumes.

I read Beauty Pop quite a few years ago, and all I remember is that it’s about cutting hair and I thought it was hilarious. Also, the lead female was a bit unconventional for a shojo title. But that’s all I’ve got, so it’s time for a reread!

~READING BREAK~

Alright! I initially planned on reading just the first 3 volumes for this post, but ended up powering through all 10 because I got sucked in, just like I did when I read it all those years ago. Beauty Pop follows 1st year high-schooler Kiri Koshiba, a girl with a gift for hair-styling, and her interactions with the S.P., or Scissors Project, a club run by 2nd year Shogo Narumi and his friends Kazuhiko Ochiai and Kei Minami, who are determined to be the top makeover/stylist team in Japan. Naturally, many hair-related hi-jinks ensue.

20170904_084322.jpgOverall, the series has a nice, meandering pace; there are over-arcing stories that run through the course of the series, but also several smaller, more episodic narratives that unfold in conjunction with the major plot-lines, and they are well balanced, so the story never loses the flow. A couple of the side stories kind of fall flat, but overall, the narrative is charming and engaging. The character relationships are also handled exceptionally well; there is as much, if not more, focus on friendship between the main cast (Kiri and her best friend Kanako get a nice subplot, Ochiai and Narumi have a lot going on, and lots of minor characters who encounter the S.P. have interesting and relatable issues to face) than there is on the romance. Typical “real world, growing up” problems are also handled  and touched upon quite a lot, as the characters grapple with decisions that will impact their futures, their relationships with family, their education, and their ties to friends. The more romantic elements are hinted at and briefly explored in the early volumes, but don’t really progress until the last 3, so it isn’t the main draw of the plot. This is not the standard, but the plot of the manga is definitely more focused on the comedy/slice of life/coming of age stories, which is a nice change in tone from more “dramatic” titles in this genre. Plus, the emphasis on hair-styling/makeup is intriguing, as it allows for exploration into personal ideas of beauty and the way society looks at people versus how they should be seen.

For example, in one bit, Kiri gets blamed for something that happens to the S.P. club room after she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of immediately assuming that she did it and getting angry, Narumi asks her about it, she says she didn’t do it, and he believes her. I half expected him to fly off the handle and go on a total rage campaign against her in a fit of manufactured drama, but no – she says she didn’t do it, and he accepts her word. It’s a great way to show how their relationship has grown to that point, and to subvert some familiar tropes of the genre.

Beauty Pop is also more of an ensemble effort than it is focused solely on one character. Some get more page-time than others (Kei, for example, doesn’t get any chapters where he is the main focus, and neither do Iori and Seki) but most of the characters get a fair amount of development and show real growth over the series. This allows for a greater range of stories to be told, as readers glean insight into Narumi’s confrontational relationship with his father, Ochiai’s ambitions clashing with his personal relationships, Kiri’s personal history with hair-styling, Kanako’s struggles to juggle friendship and love, and Billy’s difficulty choosing between duty and family.

Also, the art is great; it isn’t flashy, but the characters all have a unique style, and there isn’t anything too distracting that draws away from the story. All the different hair-styles are also cool to see, as Kiri and Narumi work their magic on a plethora of side-characters.

As I remembered, Kiri is definitely an unconventional shojo heroine, which makes this series stand out from several others. She has a laid-back, generally aloof personality that clashes spectacularly with her high-strung, temperamental counterpart, Narumi. She’s hilarious, a real breath of fresh air, and a good chunk of her story focuses on past trauma and whether she truly wants to be a beautician, and her struggles coming to terms with her dreams and her past. My only quibble with Kiri as the heroine is that, when the inevitable love triangle rears its head, you don’t get much of her perspective, especially in the later volumes. However, on the flip side of that, there is a lot of emphasis put on the two male characters of the triangle, which, at least in my experience with manga, goes a bit against the grain. But, since Kiri’s thoughts on the matter are barely touched upon, the ending doesn’t pack quite enough emotion as I would have hoped for. But in terms of the general “building up” of the romance over the course of the volumes, the progression is subtle for the most part. Narumi’s initial derision for Kiri fades slowly as they learn more about one another and gradually start to work together, but their interactions develop in a way that feels organic and natural. Ochiai’s blossoming crush on Kiri has an impact on his friendship with Narumi, as he mainly struggles with his budding feelings on his own until the triangle reaches a climax, though Kiri and Kanako’s friendship does suffer a minor snag once Ochiai’s motivations become more clear. So, although the triangle is such an overdone trope, it doesn’t feel hastily thrown in; most sides get a fair amount of development, but I wish we could have had more of Kiri’s perspective. I will say, now, as an adult, some of the “romance” comes across as more “stalkery” or “cringey,” but isn’t really presented as such. Then again, maybe I’m just out of touch.

When I first read Beauty Pop as a teenager, I was drawn in by the comedy and the unusual focus on hair-styling and beauty, and now, all these years later, that allure still rings true. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did, but I was still drawn in by the story and the characters. It’s a light-hearted title that presents familiar tropes in an unconventional and unexpected fashion, breathing new life into a genre that can easily get stale.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK.